Mar 3rd, 2022
This is unofficial, largely anecdote-based advice on getting hired for the Microsoft Undergraduate Research Internship at Microsoft. This doc covers who the program is looking for, what the application requires, prompts, interview process, decision process, offers and what happens next. I decided to create this since there isn’t much information available online about this program. source: I was an intern in this program in 2022.
Again: I’m not a Microsoft recruiter, I can’t get you hired here, and none of this advice is official (unless otherwise stated). These are reflections based on personal experience of past interns and me. I’m putting this right at the top and reiterating it, so I don’t have to say “my personal opinion is…” in every sentence.
Juniors/seniors who have some interest in research (no prior research experience necessary)
- CV or Resume
- I submitted a CV to make space for publications, volunteering/clubs. See this site for how to craft your CV: https://www.cmu.edu/career/documents/quick-tips/CV.pdf
- 2 or 3 Reference Letters
- I submitted one from my PI and one from the coordinator of a research d&i program I was part of. The coordinator of this program happened to be the head of the CS department at my university.
- Tip: reach out to your recommenders 3-4 weeks in advance (or whenever the program opens) so that you can get the best possible letter.
If you have never asked for a Letter of recommendation before here’s how it works. Ask your recommender in person, follow up with asking via email and then send them to invitation on the portal.
Hello Professor xyz,
Hope you are doing well. My name is (name) and I am/was in your (lab) as (role) (research intern). I am interested in applying for the Microsoft Undergraduate Research Internship (link here) and I was wondering if you would be able to write me a recommendation letter. The application is due Nov 19th, 2021.
I feel like you would be an excellent person to speak to my contributions with (xyz). If this is something you would have the capacity to do, please let me know what information you need for me (or if you would like to set up a quick meeting to gather the information you need) and I can provide that to you.
- Be prepared to provide your recommender with a list of your accomplishments so that they can write you the strongest letter possible.
- Two Essays
- Essay 1: Research interest statement (500 words or fewer)
- Select up to three desired research areas. (See section “MSR Research Areas” below).
- Answer the prompt: What draws you to the desired research area(s) you selected and what impact would you like to have in that space?
- Be sure to also describe:
- any relevant experience in this/these research area(s) and
- how you expect to personally benefit from participating in this internship.
- Tips: make sure you answer each part of the questions, cite any publications properly and what conferences they were submitted/accepted to or were a student reviewer for. Relate your research experiences to the research areas at Microsoft Research. If you have a very personal reason for getting into research (other than it’s cool) this is a good place to mention it.
- Essay 2: Leadership in Diversity statement (250 words or fewer)
- Please describe ways you have contributed to increasing diversity and inclusion in your field and/or any unique challenges you may have faced and how you navigated those obstacles
- Tips: make sure you quantify your accomplishments and provide key results/who was impacted on each of them.
- Essay 1: Research interest statement (500 words or fewer)
Here was my timeline with the program:
October 4th-November 19th, 2021 - Applications portal is open
December 16, 2021 - Got an email from program coordinator about interview scheduling:
Congratulations! We are impressed by your application and are pleased to share that we would like to move forward and schedule an interview. The interview will consist of a few people from Microsoft Research, and you can expect it to last 40-45 minutes. I’m emailing you today to let you know that someone from MSR will be reaching out, however, they may also have taken off for vacation! So, if you do not hear from us in the next few days, you certainly should before January 7th.
If you have any questions or any deadlines we should know of, please let us know.
December 27, 2021 - Got an email from my interviewers
Congratulations! We have reviewed your submission to the Microsoft Research (MSR) Undergraduate Research Internship and would like to schedule you for an interview.
I’m (interviewer name), and I will be conducting the interview. I’m Sr. Principal Researcher in the (redacted) group in MSR. My research is on (redacted). We will also be joined by at least one more researcher and I will let you know their names closer to the interview.
We hold the interviews online via Teams, and you can expect the interview to last 40-45 minutes. To help me schedule the interview, please let me know your availability on January 5-7.
All internships will be virtual this summer, you must be physically present in the United States or Canada during the internship.
Thanks, and I look forward to meeting you soon!
January 17, 2022 - Got an email from another program coordinator for a quick followup (this doesn’t happen for all candidates but for the sake of transparency):
My name is (researcher two) and I am one of the organizers of the Microsoft Research Internship program. I was wondering if you had time this week for a quick meeting? Some of the work you are interested in pursuing overlaps with my current research efforts. I would love to meet you and hear more about your work and interests.
January 19, 2022- Got another email from a researcher for a quick follow-up chat:
I am part of the undergrad intern program, and I was wondering if you would have some free time to chat today or tomorrow?
Jan 28, 2022 - Some people I was talking to got their offers!
Jan 31, 2022 - I got my offer!
Congratulations! We think you’d be a great addition to our program. We are recommending you for one of the MSR Undergraduate Internship positions, and we are really excited to work with you this summer. You will be mentored by (mentor name) in the Microsoft Research at Redmond lab (virtually).
For us to extend an official offer:
We need you to first apply to the program via this website: [redacted link] (You should only need to upload a resume or CV and answer the pre-qualification questions – including that we have asked you to apply. You don’t need to resubmit your essays. If it is more complicated than that please let me know.) Please let me know when you’ve completed this step.
Please let me know your preferred start date (any Monday in May or June 2022 but the earlier the better for your project). It can be adjusted before you start.
Here are the numbers (from the program coordinators):
There are about ~400 applications each year.
1st round: ~50 people get interviewed.
The committee judges applicants solely on the written materials. You typically interview with 1-3 people who ask you about your essays and work. Your interview has a domain expert and 0-2 other people there to be unbiased judges. Try to read up about your interviewers ahead of time so that you have some questions to ask them about their work. Or you can relate your work to theirs. The domain expert most likely takes you on as an intern if you get accepted (and they have the capacity for interns) or helps find someone else in one of your top three choices to be your mentor.
The program is not rolling, therefore everyone who is selected after this round will be matched to mentors afterwards, not based on a rolling thing of mentors choose people as you interview. Therefore, there is no benefit of interviewing earlier.
Around the third week of Jan, interviews wrap up and people are assigned to mentors. In the case that you don’t have a mentor, the coordinators will help you select a mentor. In the case that there are two mentors fighting over you for a project, they will choose the mentor that best aligns with your goals from the program.
Make sure you reach out to the program coordinators and/or your interviewers if you have any questions or offers from other companies so they can speed up the process.
Interview Question Examples
Expect behavioral questions as well as questions about your research, methodology, what you liked/disliked/learned from your research and what you hope to gain from the internship. Based on what team you’re interviewing for, they may ask you a coding question (someone who was interviewing for Distributed Systems research said they had a coding section of their interview)
MSR is an opportunity to do research for people who like to be really hands on about researching. Since you’re an undergraduate, most of your work has probably been hands on, so take advantage of that and talk about your impact!
Make sure you can explain your research to non-technical people and do some mock interviews with other grad students or your PI.
Questions about you and your research
- Tell us a little bit about yourself!
- Here’s what I said for mine. I like to write my elevator pitches out in bullet points so that it’s easier for me to memorize.
computer science with a minor in statistics at UIUC research interests
- Natural Language Processing
Social CompUting laBorAtory
- Summer: Classifying Voice Social Platforms (ABSPs) (Clubhouse, Twitter Spaces)
- Submitted to ACM CSCW (in review cycle)
- Fall: Project about community resiliency on Reddit.
- What kind of projects have you worked on and what have your contributions been in them?
- Could you explain x concept in further depth (explain the concept non-technically)?
- Why did you make x choice with your research?
- What were the hardest parts of the research process? What parts of the research process did you dislike and why?
- What are some conclusions you drew from this research?
- What is the significance of your research?
- Did you enjoy x part of the process?
- What are some challenges you encountered?
- What are some future routes you hope to take with this project?
- What are some of your strengths and weaknesses?
Questions about you and MSR
- What do you look for in a good mentor?
- Did you enjoy working with x mentor? What about them did you like or dislike?
- What would you consider a good outcome from the internship?
- examples are learning a method or technical skill, publishing, working on a certain type of project (kind of risky if that project is unavailable).
- What kind of work would you like to do? What kind of contributions would you want to make to projects?
- methods, writing, technical skills, publishing etc.
Questions about methods
They did not ask me much of these but they can ask these to anyone!
- Explain how would you analyze data.
- Explain x technical concept
- Maybe a easy ish leetcode question to check that you know how to code
Last part: ask the interviewer(s) questions
Here are some example questions you can ask your interviewers:
- What kind of projects have previous interns worked with?
- I don’t have much access to what industrial research internships look like, so what would be the scope of my role and contributions be as an intern?
Offers and Compensation
Thought I’d include this since I was unable to find any information on how much interns were compensated online.
- $7500-8000/month salary (I’ve heard people getting in this range based on seniority and experience)
- $3500 housing stipend (this was during COVID-19 when the internship was virtual but afaik, it goes up to 7000$ for in-person internships) UPDATE: prior to visit week in June 2022, they increased our housing stipend to $7,000 in case any of us wanted to stay in Seattle after.
- $450 credit for Microsoft software
- You can choose your start and end date (they give you a table to help you decide)
- Health insurance and Vision benefits are included for the time that you are an intern
- From past virtual years, it seems like they send you a computer (usually a ThinkPad or surface), mouse, monitor, headphones or something along those lines. Also if there’s something specific your lab uses to do work, they will probably also send that to you.
- I was sent Surface Headphones and an Oculus Quest as intern gifts!